United and Abiding in Christ

Yesterday in class we had a great discussion about what it looks like to be abiding in Christ, and we grappled a little with the concept of being united in Christ, and how He wants us to have the same intimate relationship with Him as He has with the Father (or at least that is the picture we get from the Scripture – however difficult this may be for our finite minds to grasp).

I’m in Tampa now, and last night I was reading Jerry Bridges’ book ‘The Transforming Power of the Gospel’ and found some things he says on these topics to be insightful.  I think he expresses each idea in a different way than we approached it in class, so perhaps it will show more depth to the concepts than I was able to explain.

On being united with Christ and growing in grace he says this:

…the reality of the Christian life is that even as we come more and more to desire to do our duty, we still experience the combat between the flesh and spirit. Though we may not understand all that Paul was saying in Romans 7:14-25, most of us can at least identify with some of Paul’s words such as “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (verse 15) or “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (verse 21).

Obviously this tension between desire performance can cause frustration and discouraged. And the truth is, the more we grow, the more tension between knowledge and desire and perceived progress becomes greater. This is because, as JC Ryle said, “the man whose soul is growing feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year.” How then can we keep motivated in the face of this growing tension?

The answer is through the gospel, particularly the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us. While we are struggling daily with our tension between knowledge and desire and perceived performance, we are in fact united to Christ (in Him) in his perfect obedience. We must keep our eyes on that glorious truth, and we must do it daily as we embrace the present reality of our justification: our righteous standing in Christ. Only then will we be motivated to keep pursuing holiness even in the face of increased tension.

Later on in the book, Bridges addresses this idea of abiding in Christ and what he thinks it ought to look like.  Here’s what he says:

In John 15:4-5, Jesus made it clear that the divine source of life and power comes through abiding in him. How does one abide?

Most often we think of activities such as studying our Bible and praying as abiding in Christ. These are important spiritual activities and I will address in chapter 10. But these activities do not constitute abiding in Christ; rather, they belong in a subject we called communion with Christ. What then does it mean to abide in Christ? It is reliance on Him for His life and His power. By faith we renounce any confidence in our own wisdom, willpower, and moral strength and rely completely on him to supply the spiritual wisdom and power we need. This does not mean we sit back and just “turn it all over Him” to live His life through us; rather, we rely on him to enable us. So we can say that our salvation is by faith in our transformation is also by faith. But this does not mean that the object of our faith is the same in both cases…In salvation, we are passive except to believe.  In transformation, we are active as we seek to pursue holiness in relying on the Holy Spirit to apply the power of Christ to our hearts and enable us to do his will.

I hope these brief excepts have been helpful to you, and I look forward to more discussion about the nature of Christ’s work in us, and our pursuit of holiness in the weeks and months ahead!

PJW

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